Pedro Costa: "I Have to Risk Each Shot"

I think the exact term would be "psychoid" rather than psychological, in the sense that you're not trying to create a meaning or generate equations saying this means that or this is the consequence of that. To be in a psychoid state is to say you are seeing with the psyche, imagining with the psyche. The affinities an audience might catch might emanate from a psychoid state and might not be your psychological intentions at all. You may not have put an affinity there; but, a spectator can look at a well-crafted, well-edited image and feel an affinity.

Sure. Then there is the interpretation the audience chooses or makes; but, that's another thing. Yeah, when you are structuring or constructing your film, in the editing especially, you're creating enemies, affinities, certain things begin to become enemies of other things, some things connect very closely, just because you cut one or two or three frames. It's fragile and magical. It's unexplainable. You cut a little bit and images become closer in every sense. You cut large and they clash.

 

Colossal Youth


I can't even fathom that work: shaping 340 hours of footage down to three hours. I can't imagine the process or the commitment of time. You took a year to edit Colossal Youth?

Yeah, it takes a long time. But it's great because it forces you to be patient. It's a discipline that, I think, lacks in a lot of cinema today in general. It's a lesson - well, this is very pretentious and reactionary - but, it's a good lesson for young people. I think young people today are used to things that are so easy; the films are so easy to see and easily made. That kind of work is everywhere so they don't imagine hard work. Probably they don't want to do hard work. I tend to say that it's not a mountain of suffering that comes for you; it's just work you should do like everybody else does in all aspects of society, like the simple guy that has a shop and opens the shop at 9 and closes at 6 or 7 every day for years and years. Cinema should be like that and not just special and incredible with funny and strange moments in six weeks of the life of someone. It should be everyday. It should be patient. That's the only way to learn a little bit. You should give film time. You should give cinema more time today. That's what I think it lacks a lot.

 

When I see a movie, I always see that they had no time to think. It's like Jean Renoir. Renoir said something that is not very true; but he said his American films, the films he made in Hollywood, were all bad because he had no time. He couldn't get used to the four, five, six week production schedule, shooting very fast, so he said his films were not good and that - after the films in Hollywood - he had to go to India to do something where he could really discover and work properly. He did The River.

Speaking of that temporal quality to film, you've used the term "material" to describe your films, and suddenly materiality in film seems better than metaphors in film! Letting something just be what it is and apprehending it that way, appropriately. The Maya of Central America had a concept called the ilbal. An ilbal could be any number of things - a rock crystal, a folded book, an inscribed monument, in your case a cinema lens - basically, an ilbal is a seeing instrument that furthers perception. Your films allow me to see. I don't always understand what it is I'm seeing but, then, I think you like my not always understanding. I think as a filmmaker you want me to question what I'm seeing?

Of course.

Pedro Costa

 

And it ramifies. Now, I will accept that your films are not metaphorical and I will accept that they are not necessarily symbolic or even representational, but - because of the temporality and the materiality in your films - I would have to argue that there is a mythic quality to them. Yours are stories that slow down and dilate perception, shifting them into mythic territory. Let me offer two examples from Colossal Youth, which I'd like to run by you to see if I'm projecting or not.

Returning to the doors, I know you have talked about leaving the door closed, that it's a philosophy about access or lack of access, but for me such a philosophy implies a necessary transgression on the part of the audience, in the old style of fairy tales, let's say, where a character is told, "Do not open that door. Do not open that box. Don't do that!" And yet it's absolutely imperative for the character to open that door, open that box, and to do what they're not supposed to in order for the story to move forward and for the wisdom to be gained. Are you doing that?

[Costa smiles ear to ear and chuckles.] Yeah. It's so obvious for the films that I've been making at Fontainhas and Casal Bobol that we are dealing also with space and fear. Everything comes together because it's about space, it's about being in space, creating your own space. It's all about rooms and it comes from a very faraway place also, from childhood, from being a teenager.

For instance, In Vanda's Room is a film that I thought was about all the rooms, all our teenage rooms, where we close doors and decide not to talk or to talk, to play a guitar or read a book or imagine. It's a film about creating your space or how space is created for you to be in. It's about the problem of space today because the space today is paid for and it has to be almost fought for. This space is a way in and out also. Even the light comes in through some holes and so I'm very used to this being my center for making a film. I have to find the center of a room, the center of a neighborhood, so that then I can begin to have an almost 360° view of things. I start opening some doors and closing some other doors, letting some people in or not, and sometimes I decide to close some doors because it's better for the audience perhaps or for the story or for the film. While other doors are just open, mostly windows I think, lots of seen or unseen windows, sources of light, there are spaces. You can see that the light comes in through some indirect window or hole or aperture. That's very interesting for me.

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